Updated: Oct 2, 2022
Have you ever scheduled a visit with your healthcare provider and you didn’t quite get what you needed from that visit? Other than the basics, like being on time and making sure that your insurance is accepted, here are some tips for making the most of your visits with your healthcare provider:
Be clear on why you want to visit your healthcare provider.
Did you schedule today’s visit to discuss a new problem or to follow up on an old problem? Maybe you don’t have a problem at all and you just want to make sure that everything is alright. Perhaps you need medical clearance for something specific, such as:
Enrollment in a school
Enlistment in the military
Commercial driver’s license
Participation in a sport, camp, or program
Accepting a new job
Returning to work or school after a prolonged absence
Maybe you need a procedure, routine test, or specialty treatment such as an intrauterine device (IUD) insertion, international travel medications and vaccines, a Pap smear, tuberculosis testing, or wart removal. Regardless of your reason for wanting to see the healthcare provider, make sure that you communicate this when you make the appointment and confirm whether the healthcare provider can deliver this service. Imagine you took the day off from work, found childcare, and sat in the clinic’s waiting room, only to find out that the clinic or the healthcare provider does not provide the service you planned to get when you scheduled the appointment! I hate to tell you, but this happens all the time. So, make sure you state clearly why you need to see the healthcare provider. Do this at the time you make the appointment, at the time you check in to the visit, and when the healthcare provider comes into the examination room.
Wouldn’t you be frustrated if your new healthcare provider plans to do all the things a previous healthcare provider already did? Ensuring that your healthcare provider has all of the relevant parts of your medical history helps to make visits more efficient because you’re not wasting time by starting from scratch. It also prevents medical errors, such as being prescribed a medication that should not be taken with some other medication sitting on your dresser. If they can’t go over all the paperwork today, that’s fine. Leave them a copy and they’ll scan it into your medical record.
Make sure you have everything you need so that your healthcare provider can see what you’re dealing with. If your healthcare provider has an online patient portal, upload the relevant documents you have on-hand.
If you were recently hospitalized, bring your discharge papers.
If you have multiple healthcare providers, bring a list of all of your medications or (better yet!) bring all of your medication bottles and boxes with you.
If you need your healthcare provider to fill out a form, bring a copy of the form with you; make sure that your name and date of birth is on the form.
If you have lab reports, x-rays, CT scans, ultrasounds, endoscopies, colonoscopies, or MRIs done by another facility or healthcare provider, bring a copy of the report.
If you received vaccines at another facility, bring your proof of vaccination.
Be realistic about timeframes.
If you have a deadline, you need to plan ahead to make sure that everything is done within a reasonable time-frame. That means making your appointment well in advance. It also means that you might need to give your healthcare provider 1-2 weeks to complete their portion of the form you need. Most healthcare providers cannot fill out forms during the visit, so plan to return to pick up the forms in the near future and ask whether they can have them done by a specific date.
Set the agenda and be flexible.
Make a short list of 2-4 things you want to discuss during the visit. Perhaps you’ve developed a bothersome symptom such as pain, nausea, or fatigue. Maybe you heard about a medication or nutritional supplement you might want to try. It might be that you have some ideas about how you want to approach an old problem. Whatever is on your mind, be sure to write it down and bring it with you to your visit. This doesn’t ensure that you’ll get to all of your agenda items. For instance, you might want to talk about your knee pain and your healthcare provider might be concerned about your blood pressure. The truth is that both you and your healthcare provider will have agenda items and you’ll work together to address the top concerns on both your agendas. Also, you can postpone some of the agenda items to a future visit and use the current visit to focus on the top priorities.
On the topic of being flexible, we all know that healthcare providers often fall behind, so anticipate that there might be a delay in getting your visit started. Try to avoid scheduling appointments with multiple healthcare providers in a single day. There’s a fair chance that none of them will start on time. Also, if you have something critically important to do after your appointment, such as picking up your kids from school, make sure you schedule your appointment for several hours beforehand. In other words, if you need to get the kids at 2:30, and it’s a 20-minute drive between the healthcare provider’s office and the kids’ school, don’t schedule yourself for a 1:00 appointment.
Be focused and concise.
The visit with your healthcare provider is only going to last a few minutes. While chit chat with your healthcare provider might be great for building a relationship, it takes time away from the purpose of your visit. Try to stay on topic. Tell the healthcare provider what they need to know in order to understand and address your concerns. If there’s time left over to show them photos of you kittens, grandchildren, wedding, or trip to New Zealand, then do so after you handled the business of the visit.
Don’t be shy.
I won’t say your healthcare provider has seen and heard it all, but I will say they’ve seen and heard more than most people. It’s hard to gross out or embarrass a healthcare provider. Don’t withhold the details of your medical problem because you fear they’ll be disgusted by you. The detail you leave out might be the key to diagnosing something important. For instance, if you’ve been having leg weakness, but you’ve also lost the ability to control your bladder, you’ve got to let your healthcare provider know that because it changes the diagnostic reasoning. Healthcare providers can handle the fact that you’re unshaved, you’ve got your period, or that there’s a little bit of an odor somewhere. Let them check it out so that you don’t have to continue to deal with it on your own.
Establish a plan to follow up.
There will be times when everything you need to do can be started and finished in a single visit. That might not be the case for all visits, so make sure you have a plan for when and how to follow up.
Sign up for the online patient portal so that you can see your lab results, schedule appointments online, and email your healthcare provider.
If you're being referred to a specialist or sent for scans, reach out to the healthcare provider who made the referral or ordered the scans to let them know that you’ve taken care of those things. I make referrals ALL THE TIME and specialists ALMOST NEVER send me the reports. If your healthcare provider knows that you’ve gone to the cardiologist, they’ll know that they can request the consult note.
If you have a condition that requires ongoing monitoring or medication refills, don’t wait until you’ve got 2 pills left and no more refills at the pharmacy. Schedule your next appointment before you leave the current appointment.
A Gift For You
Seeking healthcare takes up a lot of your precious time. I hope these tips will help you to get the things you need from your visits with your healthcare provider. To make things easier for you, I'm offering you a free Medical Planner, which will help you to keep an accurate record of the information your healthcare provider needs to know in order to take great care of you. You can use it for yourself or you can use it for a loved one if you're their caretaker. Hit the link below and download your free Medical Planner.